Local Rhythms – Music wants to be free – or at least freemium

The record companies must be feeling pretty good right now.  Two recent illegal downloading cases netted the RIAA over $2.6 million in judgment money.  The era of piracy is ending, just like they said it would.  Music fans – turn off your computers, start your cars, and drive post haste to Newbury Comics for further instructions.

Not so fast – if that’s really true, it’s only because you can’t steal something that’s already free.

Though the cost of music is rising for webcasters and radio stations, fans are finding it’s getting closer to zero every day.

Start with the many musicians who’ve already written off recorded work as a loss leader to drive fans to their live shows.  Locally, that includes 84 Sheepdog and Ghost Dinner Band (see below and Beyond), but bigger acts are in the picture too – and that’s where it gets interesting.

Trent Reznor gives away Nine Inch Nails music on his web site, but hardcore fans will pay for “freemium” content – extras like DVDs, exclusive concert presales, t-shirts and the like.

Currently, the most compelling free/premium concept is only available in Europe, but is promised Stateside by year’s end – with the record labels’ blessing.  Spotify is a service that looks a lot like iTunes, without the 99 cent per song price tag.   With Spotify, pretty much any song in the world can be streamed free.

The audio quality, and more importantly, stream reliability is, by all accounts, phenomenal.

Unlike services like Last.fm and Pandora, which send music randomly based on a listener’s tastes, Spotify allows you save songs, as well as create and share playlists – just like iTunes.

The whole thing is ad-supported, so it costs nothing if you watch a commercial or two.  Ironically, the delay in bringing the service to the U.S. is apparently tied to the fact that the ads aren’t obtrusive enough.  The labels want fans to work harder for free music.


For a “freemium” fee of five Euros, the ads disappear, and music can be played offline – even on an iPhone.   If music is so easy to get legally, the lure to break the law disappears.

It’s not a whole lot different than Rhapsody or Napster; both offer subscriptions, with unlimited access to downloadable (and portable) tracks.  Of course, access ends when you stop paying.  But the way I see it, for the cost of one CD a month, I can listen to tens, even hundreds more.  That’s a fair deal.

Speaking of which, many of the shows below are no-cover.  What’s stopping you from going?

Thursday: Hop Season Preview, Hopkins Center – Another eclectic lineup from the Hopkins Center this year, with returning favorites like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Bill T. Jones dance company, along with the legendary Ravi Shankar and the young, virtuoso Sejong Soloists.  Thursday’s previews (Noon and 5 PM, no ticket required) provide an look of the many shows between now and next May.  Bring your calendar.

Friday: Ghost Dinner Band, Henniker Junction – This band sounds like Pink Floyd meets Tom Waits on their way to an Electric Prunes concert – dreamy, gravel-filled and intense.  Henniker is two towns away from the Sunapee region, and Ghost Dinner, who weave Nirvana and Robert Johnson covers between originals, make it a worthwhile trip.  Their recently released “In Nightmares” is available for free via BitTorrent.

Saturday: West Fest, Claremont – This could get a little crazy.  Every year on Lionel West’s Twistback Road property, the best of the area metal scene gets together.  Anything can happen.  Saturday’s lineup includes Hexerei, Soul Octane Burner, Escape to Everything, Till We Die and TranScenT.  There’s BBQ from Claremont’s Sweet Fire, and a car derby.  Noontime start, 5 buck tickets, and you must be 21 to get in.

Sunday: Brownstock, Ascutney Mountain Resort – I remember going to my very first pig roast, hosted by Rick and Dave Davis, back in 1981.  This year, the name of their annual party is a nod to the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.  Acts include the Gibson Family Band, Carlos Ocasio and Frydaddy, Michael Veitch and Friends, Dave Clark and Juke Joynt, the Nobby Reed Project and anyone related to Rick or Dave Davis who can carry a tune.

Tuesday: Open Mike, One Mile West – George Johnson, carpenter by day, musician by night, rotates hosting duties with the Moores at this Sunapee restaurant/bar.  I stopped in the other day and was impressed with the great menu and the huge selection of beverages on tap, including a lovely Long Trail Double IPA, and a made in New Hampshire (non-alcohol) blueberry soda.

Wednesday: Squids, Ben Mere Bandstand – Always a good time, hope there’s good weather.  The Squids are the perfect excuse for an afternoon of alfresco music.  See you on the Sunapee harbor!

Beyond – Worth driving out of town
Pleasant Valley Brewing
16 Main Street, Saxtons River, Vermont
Distance: 41 minutes south

Why: 84 Sheepdog w/ Ingrid
When: Friday 7 August

Formed as a Richard Thompson tribute band, Ingrid’s Ruse provided many memorable nights of music before lead singer/guitarist Ingrid Ayer-Richardson moved to Maine in 2007.  After “The Ruse” split, band mates Josh Maiocco and Shamus Martin busied themselves with solo endeavors – Josh’s singer-songwriter work, and Shamus’s many projects with his independent Exsubel label.   They formed 84 Sheepdog last year.

Ingrid’s back in town for a visit and a rare set with her old pals, so this is a must-see affair.  Pleasant Valley Brewing Company, run by ex-Windham manager Patrick LeBlanc, is a great, music-friendly place too.

84 Sheepdog has a novel “plug and tug” way of getting their music to the masses.  Anyone who comes to a show with an MP3 player can hook up to a computer and download band tracks.

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